9 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to Myanmar

Because of recent events in Myanmar, we at World Nomads have had a long hard think about whether we should even continue publishing articles about the country. In the end we decided we should. Our reasoning is explained in this piece about ethical travel: "Controversial Destinations: To Boycott or Not?" Please read it.

Myanmar has been far less explored than most other countries in Southeast Asia, but check out these tips from our insider Taylor to help you prepared for the unexpected.

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1. Book in Advance

Myanmar only opened its borders to foreign visitors recently, and hasn’t caught up with the influx of visitors flowing into the country.

There are few accommodation options, making it difficult to find a place to stay or score a deal. Luckily, more options are becoming available – but don’t find yourself stuck without a place to sleep by booking last minute.

2. Getting Around

Myanmar has bus routes set up to major tourist areas in the country. A bonus is that most are night buses, which will help you save money on accommodation.

Do yourself a favor and book a VIP bus for the extra comfort and better night's sleep. Be warned that the rides will be bumpy – Myanmar is notorious for having bad roads.

3. Communication Isn’t As Bad As You Think

For a country that’s had minimal exposure to the western world, it’s surprising how much English is spoken. Locals are eager to practice their English during a taxi ride, or chat with you while you explore a local market.

But, it’s always nice to know a few useful Burmese phrases to surprise and delight them.

4. Fair Pricing

Throughout most of Asia, haggling is a daily occurrence. In Myanmar it’s not nearly as common, as prices quoted by the locals are often a fair price to begin with. So don’t go thinking a local is ripping you off if they won’t go lower.

As tourism increases in Myanmar, it’s okay to try some haggling – but don’t push as much as you would in other parts of Asia.

5. Site Fees

To get into some of Myanmar’s best spots you’ll need to fork out some extra cash for site fees. Bagan and Inle Lake require cards that are purchased at small booths – these may look a little dubious, but they’re run by the government.

Don’t skimp out on getting these cards, you’ll be checked on some sites.

6. Ballooning in Bagan

When you think of Bagan you picture hot air balloons rising at sunrise surrounded by temples.

It’s a beautiful scene, but few people know that these balloon rides are not available year-round. Visit during the dry season to avoid disappointment, and expect to pay prices of US $300 upwards.

7. Curfews

Don’t expect to be out late partying in Myanmar. Many of the country’s top destinations have curfews for locals and visitors. Some can be as early as 7pm, while others encourage you to be back at your accommodation for 11pm at the latest.

8. Be Conservative

Locals typically wear long skirts (longyis), long shirts, and t-shirts. Your short-shorts are not going to fly in Myanmar.

Pants and tops that cover your shoulders are respectful, and will ensure fewer eyes are on you.

9. Embrace Burmese Cuisine

Finding foreign dishes in Myanmar is not common, but luckily Burmese dishes are delicious. If you’re not a fan of curry or oil heavy dishes, I would suggest picking up your favorite snacks before entering the country, as they can come at a high price in Myanmar.

10. Research & Avoid Restricted Travel Zones [BONUS]

Ethnic and religious conflicts continue in Myanmar, making travel dangerous in a number of regions. Common regions that many countries have flagged as "do not travel" zones include: parts of the Rakhine State, Kachin state, and the border areas with China, Laos, Thailand, India and Bangladesh.

For up-to-date information, check the Myanmar government site to be sure. If that site doesn't work, which happens occaisionally, here's a good alternative from "ultimate tourism transparency".

Before you step off-the-beaten-path, do your research thoroughly. It's important to read what your travel insurance policy covers you for before you end up in a particular region that has a government warning. Some policies can cover you if you travel to areas that have a warning against travel, while other policies exclude any expenses that arise from that area.

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6 Comments

  • Alice Florence said

    So true! The locals even cover up when swimming so bear that in mind! I volunteered teaching English at a monastery in Mandalay and we took a class to a waterfall to teach swimming and were advised to cover shoulders, knees, midriff and cleavage! For more insights check out whereisalicenow.com for tips from someone who lived in Yangon for 6 months

  • naoma foreman said

    SOME OF THESE PLACES ARE QUITE INTERESTING AND OTHERS I WOULD HAVE NO DESIRE TO VISIT.

    THANKS FOR THE ARTICLE.

  • Ronald Woan said

    Realize you are supporting government caused refugee crisis whether or not you consider it genocide and one accused of using child soldiers.

  • TomSkatesNYC said

    Your considerations are balanced and helpful. We traveled extensively in southern Myanmar and appreciate all the ethnic cultures in that half of the country. The ethic spending of money and the avoidance of travel into conflict zones are two of the most important factors of tourism in Myanmar, however that leaves so many options and such absolute beauty and historic and contemporary culture. TomSkatesNYC

  • David said

    I won't travel in the US because of Trump. Russia because of Putin and his thugs. Mexico because of the cartel economy. Venezuela because it's flouting democratic norms. Spain because of the genocide in Latin America, Holland because of the way they subjugated the Indonesians. Now I won't travel in the UK because of Brexit. Anyone have any ideas for where I might go on holiday? Iceland maybe?

  • Cheri said

    Making a practice of spending bumpy nights on buses? I've done it and gotten over it. Not only might you be exhausted the next day and less able to enjoy your travels, but more importantly, you will have missed seeing every mile/kilometer of countryside along the way, seriously skewing your perception of the country. Maybe it's right for some who have extremely limited time and just want to hit highlights or those with no money for lodging every night, but if you really want to go home with a sense of the country then travel by day and interact with people on the buses. SEE the country.

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